What’s in a name?

Monday, February 18, 2013 Permalink

I’ve talked endlessly about my black/white thinking and my tendency to avoid all-things-grey – even when it comes to how I think of food. I found this post from just under two years ago in which I was bemoaning my habit of labelling food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

Since then I’ve tried to move away from such emotive words and have tried ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ or ‘less-healthy’ or ‘sometimes foods’.

I realise though it’s probably less about the label and more about how I think of that food.

My mother gives up ‘chocolate’ each year for Lent. (I may have mentioned she is fairly religious, though not freakishly so!) It’s a habit she started as a youngster and has regaled me with a tale of accidentally (?!) eating an ice cream as a kid and then realising it had chocolate in it and having to ‘confess’ to her Anglican Minister.

Lent apparently started last week and so she’s started her annual ritual.

I think she’s amazing for doing it and when she was younger and struggled more with her diet, I was always surprised that she could so easily give up the stuff she liked for religious purposes but not to lose weight. (Like me, avoiding stuff with gluten – well, usually – but not able to avoid other unhealthy stuff!)

It’s interesting though how she decides what she can and can’t eat and it makes me realise that we all seem to live by an internal barometer. Not only does the barometer shape our important values-based decisions, but it seemingly shapes all other choices we make.

My mother avoids all sweet foods during Lent: cakes, chocolate, biscuits and desserts. And while she won’t each crisps, she can however, have savoury biscuits. I’m not sure where she stands on hot chocolate or sweetened hot drinks though (and must find out to satisfy my own intrigue).

Whatever her logic for deciding what’s ‘in’ and what’s not, it makes sense to her. And that’s all that matters.

I’m not going to second-guess her choices, as it’s not my place.


We can rarely be completely objective when we judge others and their behaviour. How we view the world around us is shaped by what’s happening in our own space. A year ago I would have rolled my eyes at someone who wasn’t exercising vigorously. And yet, I’m now that person struggling to go for a walk. Similarly I look at others and think their exercising behaviour is OTT excessive and obsessive.

And when it comes to how we label/see food, one person’s healthy choice, will be another’s calorie-laden disaster.

In my last post I talked about having curries and pre-made mixes for dinner. Not the healthiest of choices. If I was of a normal weight and worrying about the last few kilograms I might need to be a lot more careful. But… as I’m trying to avoid binges and enjoy real meals (rather than consume corn chips or chocolate for dinner), I’m happy to be eating food that most people would label as ‘normal’.

I don’t eat fruit but have recently started drinking a small amount of orange juice before breakfast (replacing my diet coke!). Now I know that juice isn’t necessarily good for you (concentrated fruit and high in calories) but I have a small amount diluted in water… and figure that – in terms of options – it’s better than many. Plus it means I can spend an hour or so on my computer before I need breakfast.

I found myself feeling judged recently and felt very self-conscious and insecure. I realised though, that I’m just as great an offender – though tend to keep bitchy thoughts in my own little head. Which leads me back to that internal barometer which is something that moderates our behaviour and only ‘we’ know and understand the decisions we’re making.

What’s something you label as ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’, with which others may disagree?
Do you feel compelled to tell others if you think they’re making unhealthy food choices? (Is it your way or the highway?)

  • Char
    February 18, 2013

    This is so relevant to me today. I was just thinking that how I eat is a direct relationship to how much I weigh. I ran a 20k run on Saturday (yes, OTT and obsessive) came home and weighed myself (also another little quirk, only weighing after the week’s long run). Not surprisingly I was a little lighter (fluid loss is a wonderful thing). So I could totally justify eating a whole packet of corn chips that evening. There is no logic in my food decision making here. I just felt like I’d earned it.

    • Debbish
      February 18, 2013

      It’s such a personal thing, I’ve realised we definitely shouldn’t judge what others are doing as they are almost certainly trying their best!

  • Jess
    February 18, 2013

    Food choices are so personal arent they. It is amazing what one views as healthy another thinks is not, I notice the judgment a lot more with my kids and comments about what they do or don’t eat. I try not to be judgmental, but of course sometimes I am, I keep it to myself though.

    • Debbish
      February 18, 2013

      Yes, I didn’t even think about the kids issue. I have a friend whose little boy is petite for his age (takes after his father who also was apparently) and she copped a bit of flack from child health staff about him not getting enough food etc. There must be nothing worse than someone implying you’re starving your child, particularly when the child in question is perfectly happy and healthy.

  • Satu
    February 18, 2013

    Well, one of my goals is to learn to think of food as food, nothing less, nothing more.

    That is why I consciously eat (former) bad foods almost every day – just to make them normal again, and of course because I enjoy them. My latest favorite treat is white chocolate with dried blueberries! 🙂

    I try to avoid commenting on the way other people eat, but I don’t always succeed.

  • JavaChick
    February 19, 2013

    On the one hand, I think there are some aspects of ‘healthy vs. unhealthy’ that can’t be disputed – a carrot has more nutritional value than a potato chip, in that sense a carrot is definitely the healthy choice. Does that mean I should never, ever eat a potato chip? If I love potato chips, then having a few now and then will make me happy, and it’s probably not going to entirely wreck my health. That doesn’t mean I should be scarfing back bags of potato chips every day.

    I think it’s about balance. I also think that what works for me will not necessarily work for everyone.

    • Debbish
      February 19, 2013

      THanks for your comment and so true! Initially the post spiralled off to talk about not overdoing healthy things either, but I had to rein it in! And you’re right about different things working for different people. One person will say having a sandwich for lunch is basically healthy, whereas the next person might not dream of touching bread!


  • janinejackson
    February 19, 2013

    I’m always amazed at how many people consider dinners with pastry to be a healthy option. Pastry is in my ‘sometimes food’ category. But I have a friend that will use it regularly and that kinda freaks me out!

    • Debbish
      February 19, 2013

      At the moment Neen I’m probably someone who would be happy it’s close to a normal food, rather than seeing it as a sometimes food. But, as my eating habits normalise I’m hoping to move onto the next stage – where I don’t see fries or mounds of potato or rice as something I should have every night!


  • KCLAnderson (Karen)
    February 20, 2013

    I think highly processed foods with lots of additives are generally unhealthy, but I am learning more and more to focus on what I love and believe in rather than on what I think is bad or what I dislike. Meaning, I’d be more apt to say something positive and supportive to someone with whom I am close about the healthy food they are eating than to say something negative when they are eating something I view as unhealthy. Does that make sense?

    • Debbish
      February 20, 2013

      Yes indeed, it does!

  • Liz@LastChanceTraining
    February 20, 2013

    I try to keep all foods morally neutral – though there are some things I can think of that have no health justification at all , like dagwood dogs!

    • Debbish
      February 21, 2013

      God, I’d forgotten they even existed… but I’m sure there’s processed meat under the layer of fried batter! 😉

      Fried Mars Bars are probably a bit the same. Definitely a ‘sometimes’ food! Hee hee.

I'd love to hear your thoughts